The Film Architect by matthew c. hoffman
I was checking out a middle-aged patron at the front desk in Circulation and she had her stack of a dozen dvds– all new releases like The Roommate and I Am Number Four. She asked me if I had seen any of her choices and I told her no, I hadn’t. Then she looked at the “Hot” dvds on display behind me and asked if I had seen Beastly. Again I told her no. “You must not be a movie person,” she tells me. I told her, “No, I’m not.”
When people check out disposable entertainment like The Switch or Just Go With It and then ask me if I’ve seen it, I wish I could tell them how I really feel. I’d rather handle Bridesmaids with a pair of tongs, but I prefer to just check them out and keep my mouth shut instead of alienating patrons. Maybe 99% of the new releases I have no motivation to see. Sorry. I’m not that type of movie person. Don’t ask me if I’ve seen Bad Teacher. If you can find it on Netflix, most likely I’m not interested in sitting through it. Nor do I understand why there are so many reserves– and a waiting list– for the third season of “Castle” or “The Mentalist” or “Dexter.” The older patrons are always checking out “Midsomer Murders” and recommending British mysteries to me, but how do you tell any of that apart? The entertainment we circulate exists in some other world from the one I know. There is a sameness to it all, and it all blurs together. So no, I’m not a movie person by most people’s standards.
Thank you to “Classic Images” editor Laura Wagner for her mention of our upcoming Art Deco series in a recent issue. Click here to read the article!
I am, however, a historian of a certain time period in film history. When I think of the movies I’ll be showing next spring, I think of names like Lubitsch or DeMille or Leisen. I think of stars like Garbo, Crawford, and Lombard. To me, film is a commitment to them, and you experience it on film as a living and breathing entity in a theatre where it can overwhelm you rather than out of an impersonal redbox. To me, the new releases are only dead things being ejected–to be viewed and forgotten… fast food entertainment out of a vending machine. We carry them all at the library, but good luck finding the Ernst Lubitsch musicals in the collection. But that’s indicative of all public libraries– catering to popular taste and pop culture.
But there are no deficiencies in our actual programming. The Park Ridge Public Library offers the most in-depth film study of any library in the suburbs. I have the priviledge to showcase films from an era most people have forgotten or neglected. It’s the only world I know. But with Screen Deco, we’ll be doing more than just showing films and talking about them. I want to build something more than just an appreciation for these particular titles. Screen Deco is being designed with something more in mind. It goes beyond architecture and set design. It’s a high style, an attitude, a philosophy, a way of life. It’s elusive to describe, but words like sophistication and civility come to mind. I’m not building just a lineup of movies, but a vision of the Past and Future. I want people to walk out feeling excited by the architectural ideals and inspired by the glamourous film content. I hope audiences will no longer settle for what is easily available but instead try to seek out what isn’t. You can do that with black and white movies? Yes, you most certainly can.
Even the films that aren’t making the cut in our 2012 series have far more merit than any of those “Hot” dvds I have to check out every day. Right now I’m in the process of viewing as many Art Deco films as are available, but some I will not have room to show. The Easiest Way (1931) with Constance Bennett and Robert Montgomery offers some very stylish Deco sets as well as a fine performance by Adolphe Menjou. Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise (1931) starring Greta Garbo and Clark Gable is a fascinating film, but there’s really only one sequence in it that features Modernism in set design. Both are available through the Warner Archive.
These are the films people should seek out instead of the latest violent video game passing for a movie like Battle: Los Angeles. These “old” films are more relevant to our lives than what is playing in the cineplex because they make you dream of something higher– something worthier. I think there are people out there who are becoming sick of popular culture and the ugly things it puts in the spotlight. People still watch it because there are no alternatives. The Park Ridge Public Library offers the alternative. Screen Deco isn’t about cynicism and embarrassment. It’s about transcendence and cultural achievement. It’s about looking your best and succeeding. It’s about living the first-class lifestyle– the inner millionaire. Screen Deco provides those models, and it is those models that elevate us as a society.